Dig deep enough in the annals of English folklore and you’re bound to come across the story of the loathsome Lambton Worm. With tons of history behind it, the tale of this cryptid is one that has been repeated for centuries. It lies somewhere between Bigfoot and Grendel in terms of cultural importance, as the story associated with the worm is both a heavy-handed historical artifact and light-hearted entertainment.
But what’s the deal with the Lambton Worm? Is it an old-school story not meant to be taken seriously? Is it a dragon, a worm, a serpent, or something else? Is there a chance that the Lambton Worm is still out there, just waiting to be discovered by a truth seeker in the cryptid community?
These are all great questions. As is the case with old legends, though, the answers are rarely well-defined. Let’s take a look at the legend of the loathsome Lambton Worm and see what we can learn.
The Story of England’s Loathsome Lambton Worm
Before we analyze this myth any further, it’s important that you have some context. So, with that in mind, let’s tell the most commonly recited version of this age-old tale.
Back in England during the Crusades, there was supposedly a young man named John Lambton in County Durham, a small community in the northern reaches of England. Coming from a good family and not wanting to take life very seriously, John decided on a fateful Sunday that he would skip church and instead go fishing. Despite an old man urging him not to skip (pro tip: if a creepy old man ever offers a dark warning, you may want to heed his words), John decided to go anyway.
The fishing was going well, the day was young, and John was having a jolly time. But then, something strange happened: John reeled in something that wasn’t normal. It wasn’t a fish, it wasn’t quite an eel… instead, it was something that seemed like it was pure evil. John immediately knew that it was the devil, but the old man once again offered some advice. “Don’t throw it back in,” he warned. “Toss it in the well.”
This time, John listened. And for a bit, there weren’t any problems. John went off to fight in the Crusades and forgot all about the terrifying creature he had caught while fishing. But as he was gone, the worm grew stronger and stronger while in the well. It eventually grew to the size where it could come out of well, feed on livestock, and terrorize innocent villagers. Naturally, this was a problem.
When John returned from the Crusades, he saw the toll that the worm had taken on his humble village. Seeking out the advice of a witch, she tells him that the Lambton Worm is a physical embodiment of a mistake he made as a boy; if wants the worm to leave his village alone, he will have to be the one to kill it. She tells him to put on spike-covered armor and defeat the worm in the water – and, once he’s done, he needs to kill the first living thing he sees to avoid cursing his family for nine generations.
Thanks to the spiked armor, John is able to fight the worm without it coiling around him. This allows him to defeat it, and it seems all is good. However, the first living thing John ends up seeing after the battle is his father, and he can’t bring himself to kill him. Thus, he and the rest of the Lambtons are cursed. So, uh, no “happily ever after” here.
Versions of the Legend
The story above is more or less the main version that most people are familiar with. John catches a creepy eel, it wreaks some havoc, and then he kills it. It’s an oral legend that has been passed down for hundreds of years, but there are also other variations of the story that are important.
Aside from spoken word takes on the tale, the Lambton Worm has also appeared in song. During the 1800s, a folk song was created about the worm that has enjoyed enduring popularity. Originally penned by C.M. Leumane and traditionally accompanied by the northumbrian smallpipes, the song’s lyrics have changed quite a bit over the years as the English language has evolved.
The Lambton Worm was brought into mainstream popularity by none other than Bram Stoker. His take, The Lair of the White Worm, didn’t directly use the Lambton name, however. Still, the main plot points of the story were unchanged, proving that the myth could translate well into a literary format. Well, okay, not really – Stoker’s book is largely considered one of the worst works of horror lit ever. Don’t believe me? Fine. Maybe a little author by the name of H.P. Lovecraft can convince you:
“[Stoker] utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost infantile.”
Following Stoker’s interpretation were several other attempts. The graphic novel Rose has a plot very similar to the original Lambton Worm story, and a 1978 opera by the name of The Lambton Worm combined the storytelling and musical aspects that have been central to the tale for centuries. The story is still alive today, with a comic released in 2018 called “Return of the Lambton Worm” featuring the worm fighting Hellboy. Uh… yeah. That’s real.
Is the English Lambton Worm Real?
To be clear, the Lambton Worm isn’t exactly a “worm.” It’s more of a “wyrm” – a type of serpent closer to a dragon than a nightcrawler. So, by that same token, the Lambton Worm could be real, right? Massive sea creatures from legends like the kraken and the Loch Ness Monster still intrigue cryptid hunters, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch that there might be someone searching for the Lambton Worm.
Let’s start by checking the facts. County Durham is indeed a real place in England, and there is historical precedence for a Lambton family having lived there. A Lambton Castle existed there in the 19th century, in fact. Additionally, there are incidences of misfortune recorded in conjunction with the Lambton name that could help prove that the curse is indeed real.
Other locations in the story also line up with reality. The River Wear, the spot where John caught the worm, is in Durham, and a hill from the story seems to line up with a real one near the river. But does all of this mean that the worm is real? Eh… not really.
Here’s the thing: although the story has persisted since the Crusades era, there’s nothing that implies that the worm is a real animal from a thousand years ago. With Bigfoot, we have supposed prints. With Nessie, we have supposed photos. The Lambton Worm, however, only has a story from history. Additionally, the story feels a little too convenient – it has a church-going moral to it, for goodness’ sake.
But hey, don’t let my analysis ruin your fun. If you think there are more worms out there in English rivers, more power to you. The thing about cryptids is that they are terrifying, interesting, funny, and most likely not real. But it’s a lot more entertaining to believe that there’s a kernel of truth to every monster story. One word of advice, though: just don’t go fishing in the River Wear without your spike-covered armor. Trust me on this one.
Last Updated on August 1, 2022.